Email Time and Task Management

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Email Time and Task Management

Most American workers struggle to manage their email. A typical inbox holds hundreds of messages, with the computer heralding the arrival of more every few minutes. Most people try to respond immediately, flagging as “Unread” or “Follow Up” any that need more attention. Soon, the inbox becomes a pile of stressful, neglected tasks. Many workers spend hours each day just “doing email.”

Is anything wrong with this picture? After all, it is normal. Many responsible, hard-working people have inboxes just like this. Is this just how work gets done in the 21st century, or is something broken?

The truth is that while most people have inboxes like this, it is poor time and task management. Fortunately, understanding a few simple principles can make your email amazingly easier to manage. You can implement these changes in less than 15 minutes.

Principle 1: Don’t Let Email Interrupt You

Every interruption costs 2 to 25 minutes of your time plus the time to deal with the interruption. A little math shows that even three medium-sized interruptions can decimate your day. If you receive 30 to 50 emails every day, you’re just asking for wasted hours dealing with email interruptions.

Fortunately, it isn’t hard to stop email from distracting you. You just need to turn off email notification and check your email at scheduled times. Outlook, the de facto standard for corporate email, comes pre-configured to interrupt you constantly, so you’ll need to turn off the notifications, both visual and auditory.

For instructions on turning off Outlook Email Notifications, click here.

Principle 2: Three Kinds of Email

Email comes in three flavors (not counting “spam”), and each one serves a different purpose. These purposes work against each other and cost you time and stress unless you manage them properly:

Communication email is probably half of what you receive each day. These emails just need a reply. They don’t demand any other action.

Action email is anything that represents a task, either directly or indirectly. If you have to do anything besides hit the reply button, it is an action email. This email is most likely to create stress and waste time.

Resource email is anything you need to keep for reference. When you reply to communication emails or complete action emails, they also become resources if you may need them later. Sometimes people send you email for your reference. These only need to be gathered into a separate, searchable folder.

If you look through your Inbox, you should be able to quickly identify which emails belong in which groups.

Principle 3: Quickly Separate Actionable Email

You need to put all of your action email, things that you still need to do, into a separate folder or group. Separating them is important because it saves you from trying to do all of your email immediately and it unclogs the communication channel. Additionally, putting all of your unfinished actions in one place makes the easier to track.

Create a new email folder called “[Action]”. The brackets force it to sort to the top of your email folders, keeping it within easy reach.

Several times each day, sort your email inbox. Spend no more than 10 seconds to two minutes on any single email. All you will be doing is identifying which kind of email you are looking at—Communication, Action, or Resource. Delete junk immediately without sorting it.

Read and respond to communication email in under two minutes. These shortreplies unclog your communication channel. If it is going to take you more than two minutes to both read and respond to the email, put it in your “[Action]” folder to deal with later. When you have finished responding, archive or delete the email.

Move resource items into a “Resources” folder. Use a program like Google Desktop, a cool free tool, to index and retrieve your emails. (Visit our gismos page for links to this and other timesaving tools.)

Move action emails to your “[Action]” folder. Following up on something is an example of an action. The email doesn’t need to explicitly say that it requires action. If you look at it and think, “Oh, I need to…” then it is an action email.

Principle 4: Manage Action Emails

Manage your email in Outlook from the [Action] folder by using it as a task list. Whenever you complete a task, remove the email from your [Action] folder.

Principle 5: To Zero

Separate all the emails in your inbox to zero several times per day. You will feel relief simply by emptying your inbox. Initially, clearing your inbox may take a bit of time, but it will be time well spent, since it will give you a complete view of all your lurking email tasks.

Taking It to the Next Level

As you follow this process, you’ll begin to feel relief. However, the full cure requires that you interconnect your emails, task list and calendar properly, and that you live an easy, rewarding system for managing and balancing all the demands on your time. That’s where Total, Relaxed Organization™ comes in. With TRO you’ll do more, in less time, with a lot less stress. It empowers you to manage every task in every area of your life, including mail, bills, papers, voicemail, assignments you give or receive, your physical workspace—even your garage workbench. Our revolutionary approach and one-to-one coaching delivers that power in as few as 7 hours. Click here for more information.